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WORK OF THE WEEK | 27 May 2019

CAG.116 Mary Swanzy, Swans, c.1930, oil on canvas, 50.9 x 60.9 cm. © The Mary Swanzy Estate.

It’s the final week of our MARY SWANZY: Voyages exhibition so this WORK OF THE WEEK goes out to her!

Featured in the exhibition, Swans (c.1930) is one of two works by Mary Swanzy (1882-1978) in our collection. Made several years after her Samoan paintings, including our Samoan Scene (1924), it emerges as less a geographical voyage and more a journey into the artist’s imagination.

It is tempting to consider some form of symbolism in the play on words between its title and the artist’s surname. Reluctant to name or explain such work, however, Swanzy does not identify any personal insights and instead leaves interpretation of the work to the viewer. Therefore, what at first appears to be a physical landscape becomes, on closer inspection, a Surrealist visionary composition in the artist’s own personal idiom.

The painting features heightened cryptic imagery, including four swans (love or transformation?), one of which is rendered in a different colour (isolation?); abundant foliage (growth or fertility?); a submerged human figure, downcast and gesturing, with hands raised and palms facing outward (faith or religion?); stork-like birds (new life?) roaming the shore; another human figure grappling with a salmon-like fish (knowledge?); a rolling landscape in non-naturalistic colours (Fauvism); a figure crossing a bridge towards a winding path… you are invited to enter into the unique imagination of this Modern Irish Master.

Chart a course for MARY SWANZY: Voyages, which must close 3 June 2019! The exhibition is curated by Seán Kissane (Irish Museum of Modern Art).

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